What are Emotions and Moods?

Before we can proceed with an analysis of the terms in the title, we need to clarify three terms that are closely intertwined — affect, emotions and moods.

Affect is a generic term that covers broad range of feelings that people experience. It’s an umbrella concept that encompasses both emotions and moods. Emotions are intense feelings that are directed at someone or something. Moods are feelings that tend to be less intense than emotions and that often (though not always) lack a contextual stimulus.

Most experts believe that emotions are more fleeting than moods. For example, if someone is rude to you, you’ll feel angry. That intense feeling of anger probably comes and goes fairly quickly, maybe even in a matter of seconds. When you’re in bad mood, though, you can feel bad for several hours.

Emotions are reactions to a person (seeing a friend at work may make you feel glad) or event (dealing with a rude client may make you feel angry). You show our emotions when you’re happy about something, angry at someone, afraid of something. Moods in contrast, aren’t usually directed at a person or event. But emotions can turn into moods when you lose focus on the event or object that started the feeling. And, by the same token, good or bad moods can make you make emotional in response to an event. So when a colleague criticizes how you spoke to a client, you might become angry at him. That is, you show emotion (anger) toward a specific object (your colleague). But as the specific emotion dissipates, you might just feel generally dispirited. You can’t attribute this feeling to any single event; you’re just not your normal self. You might then overreact to other events. This affect state describes a mood.

First, affect is a broad term that encompasses emotions and moods. Second, there are differences between emotions and moods. Some of these differences – that emotions are more likely to be caused by a specific event, and emotions are more fleeting than moods – we just discussed. Other differences are subtler. For example, unlike moods, emotions tend to be more clearly revealed with facial expressions (anger, disgust). Also, some researchers speculate that emotions may be more action oriented – they may lead us to some immediate action while moods may be more cognitive, meaning they may cause us to think or brood for a while.


Defined as a broad range of feelings that people experience, Affect can be experienced in the form of emotions or moods.

* Caused by specific event
* Very brief in duration (seconds or minutes).
* Specific and numerous in Nature (many specific emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise).
* Usually accompanied by distinct facial expressions.
*Action oriented in nature.


* Cause is often general and unclear
* Last longer than emotions (hours or days)
* More general (two main dimensions – positive affect and negative affect that are comprised of multiple specific emotions).
* Generally not indicated by distinct expressions.
* Cognitive in nature.

Finally, the exhibit shows that emotions and moods can mutually influence each other. For example an emotion if it’s strong and deep enough, can turn into a mood. Getting your dream job many generate the emotion of joy, but it also can put you in a good mood for several days. Similarly, if you’re in a good or bad mood, you might experience a more intense positive or negative emotion than would otherwise be the case. Or example, if you’re in a bad mood, you might ‘Blow up” in response to a coworker’s comment when normally it would have just generated a mild reaction.